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Spotlight on dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB)

How our understanding of dementia has changed
I think people are very aware now of the importance of dementia. Most of us have heard of Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia. But less people have heard about dementia with Lewy bodies, which is the second most common cause. Until fairly recently, Lewy body dementia was confused with Alzheimer’s disease, and the majority of patients were diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. It’s very important that a person with dementia with Lewy bodies gets an accurate diagnosis, because the management of the condition is different from other types of dementia.
Over the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve become aware of dementia with Lewy bodies as a separate condition, largely because we had established a collection of brain tissue from people who died with dementia and we were able to examine the changes in their brain after their deaths, and this is how we first recognised and discovered that Lewy body dementia existed and was common. Then we were able to move on to look at the histories of those people, see what kind of symptoms they’d had, and that allowed us to start diagnosing it during lifetime.
Once given an accurate diagnosis, then the clinician are able to plan out appropriate management covering all of the different kinds of symptoms, and we’re able to offer effective treatment for the first time. We then worked in collaboration with GE Healthcare to adapt one of their existing brain imaging techniques, called DaTscan, in order that it was useful to distinguish dementia with Lewy bodies from other types of dementia. A group in Newcastle University have taken an international lead around dementia with Lewy body research for almost the last two decades. We have pulled together all of the interested groups around the world to develop diagnostic guidelines and to make sure that these are being implemented and used very widely.
Most recently, the diagnostic criteria which we established have been incorporated into the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is the bible for diagnosis, and this means that, if you like, that dementia with Lewy bodies has become an official disorder. The next steps in our research are to collaborate with other groups internationally, to use the tissue resources that we have between us in order to develop ideas for new treatments. We already have some new molecules in the pipeline that probably will have potential to prevent disease or to treat patients as they are symptomatically at the moment
Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) was brought into the spotlight by the untimely death of the actor and comedian, Robin Williams, who was eventually diagnosed with the disease after his death.
Watch Professor Ian McKeith describe how Newcastle University’s Biomedical Research Unit has contributed to our knowledge and understanding of Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) as a distinctive form of dementia. He describes how research undertaken here at Newcastle led to the development of diagnostic criteria that are now in use worldwide.
In an article written for ‘The Conversation’ which was read by over two million people worldwide, Professor Ian McKeith talks about the significance of Robin’s diagnosis for raising awareness of the condition and for highlighting the particular challenges of some of the symptoms.
On-going research is exploring how the symptoms of DLB should be managed, and what still needs to be done to develop effective treatments.
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Dementia Care: Staying Connected and Living Well

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